Diabetes Treatment Without Medication? It’s Not As Crazy As It Sounds
Diabetes is such a common diagnosis in the United States that hearing your doctor break the news barely even comes as a surprise. As sad as that is, preventing and treating diabetes may be easier than we used to believe. And less expensive, too.
Leading nutrition and diabetes experts, including epigeneticist Dr. Lucia Aronica and Dr. Jeff Stanley, M.D., have worked tirelessly to break down the latest research on diet and metabolic health to empower people to prevent and manage this frustrating, even debilitating, condition. These tips can help improve health and reverse diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes Stats Every American Should Know
Before we get to the good stuff, brace yourself for some sobering facts. Ready? Here it goes:
- About four in 10 U.S. adults have pre-diabetes, and one in seven have type 2 diabetes.
- 52 percent of American adults have one of the two.
- Treating diabetes in America costs about $245 billion a year.
- Even as medication has advanced, the rates and severity of diabetes have risen.
These figures will skyrocket in the coming decades unless we radically change something. Doing so is possible, but first, we have to understand why the problem is so widespread to begin with.
Type 2 Diabetes Doesn’t Appear Out of Nowhere. It Starts on Our Plates
Dr. Jeff Stanley has been studying diabetes for years, and the root cause isn't much of a mystery. Each of our bodies are equipped with a handy system to control blood sugar. Like a computer, it works really well unless it's overloaded with more than it was designed to handle.
When we consume too much sugar too often, we're abusing the well-designed system our bodies have to process it. Too much sugar results in frequent spikes in blood sugar levels. Over time, that results in insulin resistance, pre-diabetes and eventually diabetes. Anyone can develop it regardless of their genetics if they consistently abuse their system.
Although genetic factors do make some people more likely to develop diabetes than others, it isn't a disease of unlucky genes. It's a disease of high blood sugar and insulin resistance. Fortunately, both of those factors are ones we can influence by the food we lay out on the dinner table.
Diabetes Can't Be Cured, but It Can Be Reversed
The definition of reversing diabetes is controversial. It’s an emerging definition, but at present, diabetes reversal is defined as having all the markers of diabetes, hemoglobin, A1C, and fasting glucose and insulin levels brought back into a normal range without medication.
Some people don’t like the term reversal because maintaining the reversal requires making permanent lifestyle changes. If they return to eating ice cream every day, their diabetes will return.
Can it be completely cured? Sadly, not quite. It can only be reversed to the extent that a person is willing to make ongoing lifestyle changes to maintain. If you're more committed to a nightly pint of Ben and Jerry's than you are to your spouse, staying off medication is about as realistic as learning to fly. If you're willing to change the way you eat for life, living well without daily doses of injected insulin is a real possibility.
If Diabetes Reversal Is Possible, Why Are So Many People Prescribed Insulin Instead?
On the surface, this one doesn't make sense. If diabetes management is possible with food, why would treating it with medication be the more common approach?
For many reasons. Nutrition isn’t a focus of physician education. The evidence we have that reversing diabetes via nutrition is possible is based on a comparatively small body of new research. We’re still learning about alternative diabetes treatments, whereas traditional approaches have years of concrete evidence proving their effectiveness.
It’s only in the past couple of years that enough clinical evidence has been compiled to prove that type 2 diabetes reversal is possible for most patients. As the evidence continues to grow, the way doctors approach diabetes treatment will gradually shift. The way diabetes was treated a century ago looks a lot different than it does today, and it will look a lot different in 30 years, too.
Catching Early Signs of Pre-Diabetes Can Prevent It From Snowballing
Early signs that your metabolic health needs some TLC can be spotted in a blood test. The traditional biomarkers for diabetes are hemoglobin, A1C, fasting glucose and fasting insulin. A glucose challenge test may also be prescribed.
As far as how you feel, early signs that something's amiss with your health include:
- Increased hunger and/or thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Slowed wound healing
- Unintended weight loss
- A pins-and-needles feeling in your hands or feet
- Frequent infections
That said, people with pre-diabetes often feel completely normal, so that annoying blood draw at your annual physical is a good call.
If you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes, a low-carb diet may be a good option for staving off the progression of the disease or reversing it. Dr. Lucia isn’t a medical doctor, but she is an expert on low-carb nutrition. A low-carb diet is finally being endorsed by the American Diabetes Association as one of the first lines of therapy for diabetes.
By reducing the glucose sources, we can manage the problem our body has with the maintenance of normal glucose levels. At least for as long as we maintain our new, lower-sugar diet, of course.
The Future of Diabetes Treatment Is Hopeful
At present, less than 1 percent of diabetes patients achieve remission, but that's not because it isn't possible. After looking at 23 randomized controlled trials, basically the gold standard for research, of diabetes patients who went on low and very low-carb diets for six months, remission of diabetes without adverse side effects was a common result.
In another one-year study, the group that stuck with a very low-carb diet saw the greatest reversal of diabetes markers and was able to reduce their medication the most. An additional study showed that a low-carb approach could have a similar effect as treating diabetes with insulin would, and appeared to have minimal negative consequences.
The hope is that this new evidence will provide the basis for educating future generations of physicians on a more holistic, bottom-up approach to treating diabetes. In time, preventative nutritional care could lower the rates of diabetes in the U.S. substantially.
For a Deep Dive Into Diabetes Reversal, This Video Is a Must-Watch
Dr. Lucia is an expert on customizing nutrition for your unique epigenome, and she interviewed Dr. Jeff Stanley, the medical director of Virta Health and a professor at Ohio State, to help people understand how lifestyle intervention can help reverse their type 2 diabetes, get off expensive medications and live fuller lives.
Before you watch, one big caveat to keep in mind: Reversing diabetes isn't something anyone should ever take on alone. Changing medication dosage over time is possible, but doing so without supervision can result in dangerously low blood sugar or other serious complications.
Speak with your primary care doc or endocrinologist so that they can guide and supervise your diabetes remission journey.
FamilyMinded is partnering with Dr. Lucia Aronica for health and wellness news. To learn more about how you can take control of your health using science, check out Dr. Lucia's free webinar, her website and YouTube channel.
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